Social Question

whitenoise's avatar

If society is racist, how to raise your children?

Asked by whitenoise (13436 points ) January 26th, 2013

Please… insults are neither intended nor invited…
I truly believe in basic equivalence of all people, regardless of race, gender, age or ethnicity.

Let me paint the picture…

I live with my family in a country with an unsurpassed level of racism and discrimination along ethnicities and gender. Truly to a level that makes South Africa’s Apartheid look mild.

I notice that in this society, my kids are picking up quite some prejudices. And in all honesty, I cannot really blame them. They are continuously treated different based on their skin color and people around them continuously behave different based on their (obvious) ethnicity (for lack of better word).

This made me think… what if you can truly expect a different treatment from people, based on your own race? What do you teach your kids? That there is no difference? While ‘real life’ teaches them there is, every day?

I personally teach them, and I think they understand, that it is culture that defines people, not their birth. That regardless of difference, one person is not worth more than others. They understand, I think, and when back home they act that way.

However, here, where we live now, they have a whole of distrust towards other people, merely based on the way they are dressed. And in all honesty I cannot blame them… the distrust is reciprocal.

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29 Answers

augustlan's avatar

Sadly, an awful lot of parenting (anywhere) is about un-teaching your children some of the things they learn from other people (or from the world in general). While you obviously have to acknowledge the reality of your area’s social climate, you can also make it clear that there is a difference between the way things are and the way things should be.

Teach them that there is no reason to accept the way things are. Show them that many people are trying to improve the situation. Let them know (in age-appropriate ways) that you hope they will do the same. Teach them to be strong in their convictions, and not to be swayed by a majority position simply because it is the majority position. Teach them the difference between right and wrong, essentially.

Shippy's avatar

Instill in them, their sense of self worth. Their abilities, their capabilities.

Educate them in the ways of prejudice, as a matter of lack of. Lack of knowledge, lack of education, lack of empathy.

Tell them about great Heroes that changed the world. And love them.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Teach them that everyone has value and worth. I especially liked Shippy’s idea of showing them minority figures that made a big contribution to everyone’s life.

Buttonstc's avatar

In spite of everything around them, the strongest and most lasting influence upon children in any environment or society is their parents.

Don’t ever be hesitant about sharing and imparting your values to them in regards to racism or any other of life’s issues. Make sure there is no doubt in their minds about where you stand on ANY issues.

I don’t mean be stridently preachy about it bit just all the little everyday conversations tucked in here and there.

Ask interestingband thought provoking questions as a matter of course. And always be open to let them question the WHY of how you view these issues.

No sincere question should be off limits. Value their input.

One of the most powerful skills you can encourage in them is critical thinking. This means that they need not passively accept either your viewpoints or those of society. Teach them to think for themselves in ALL circumstances. This is one of the most powerful tools you can teach them. The power to use their brains and think for themselves.

whitenoise's avatar

Thank you for thesuggestions. This is what we do and i feel the only thing wecan do as well.

There is however another dimension. What if it would indeed in general be very unsafe for them to trust specific kinds of people. We tell them, for instance, to stay away from any overtly religious people. There could be sincere trouble for them if they behave in the wrong way around these people.

In order to function in this society they need to understand that women are not be spoken to or looked at. However… our teaching them that women are very much the same value as men and that we feel differen are already made them conclude that there is something wrong with most locals. Still we want them to respect cultural differences.

What if they say things like “dad… you drive like a local”, if indeed most locals drive like maniacs?

The answers you give are valid and we stick by them… It still is hard though. Especially since I find that I myself have to admit…. I have become prejudiced towards the locals as well.
Not something I want to be, but it is hard to avoid.

Pachy's avatar

Wonderful suggestions above. I would add that kids should be encouraged to actually socialize with people of different genders, races and religions so they can learn about the similarities, not just the differences. For learning about different kinds of people, nothing’s better than working or having fun with them. My dad had a custom of inviting friends of other faiths to our Passover seder every year.

Brian1946's avatar

In what country do you live?

susanc's avatar

You actually have to fight racism sexism religious intolerance and so on. You can’t just tell them nice things. You have to act.
You might get hurt. Okay. Show them that’s what’s called for.

We all want our children to be safe, but they aren’t safe. Teach them to work against the things that are hurting the people around them and hurting them in the process. Show them how to stand up. You’re already thinking and talking to them as well as you possibly can, but you have to take action, you have to take risks. Thank you for bringing this question to this community.

augustlan's avatar

@whitenoise Not knowing what country you’re in, we can’t really assess the level of personal risk that might be involved with bucking the local norms. If we’re just talking about being disliked or minor harassment, that is one thing. Standing up for your convictions is worth the risk, in that case.

However, if physical danger is a real possibility, that changes things – especially if your children are young. Someone still needs to do it, but that someone may not be you (at least not in a public, visible way.) Perhaps it would be safer to work behind the scenes, still teaching your children about your personal values and the risks involved. If you are in an environment like that, my best possible advice is to MOVE. I know it’s easier said than done, but is there any hope of moving to a more progressive area?

rooeytoo's avatar

I think the most relevant fact is that people must be taken one at a time. All cultures, races, whatever you choose to call the classification, have good people and jerks. Different cultures have different traditions, some of which I find objectionable and do not want to associate with people who follow those traditions. But again, not all dance to the same tune, so, one at a time is the answer.

susanc's avatar

Btw I didn’t mean go downtown and shoot the mayor in the head. I mean take a public stand for treating people well. Yes, one at a time.

JLeslie's avatar

This is a great question. I feel like my husband and I have experienced this in a minor way moving from one area of America to another. I don’t have children, but even my husband and I feel awful thinking about a group of people negatively. It is not who we are in our hearts and minds, but it is hard to ignore what is around you. Many of our friends where we live who are from other states and also other countries talk about it, how uncomfortable it makes us.

We are in the process of moving, and it feels good in our new city to be back to more of what we consider our normal.

If I were you I would emphasize that in the country you are in now that is how it is. You can talk about how you don’t agree with it, how it bothers you, and that some of the prejudices and stereotypes are actually a reality there. Depending on their age you can talk about how there are complex reasons for why this happens.

Exposure to your home country and other places where people are not judged by their color, religion, economic level, will help your children compartmentalize how it is not race or gender, but the specific community you are in now. I think this is the most important thing. They will associate the prejudice with the culture and the country rather than the actual individuals and their identifying characetristics hopefully. I also would always emphasize that when you meet someone you should always meet them as an individual, not with assumptions about them, but also as children they have stranger rules I assume that you give them, no matter who the stranger is.

The country you are in is an example of why your values are better. I hate to use better when referring to cultures, I don’t want to be ethnocentric, but it is something for your boys to think about. What type of world do they want to live in? What is more just? For us, living in TN reinforced the negative that has come out of years of oppression, lack of education, and unfair treatment. The people at the “top” live with poverty, crime, and people who can be quite frustrating all around them, because of how the top people treated others over the last 100+ years. I won’t get into the specific dynamics in TN, because I am sure it differs from your situation, but I think there are probably similarities.

JLeslie's avatar

I forgot to add. Safety is the most important thing. They are not in their country. When in Rome do as the Romans is generally what I would prescribe. Even if you were in the safety of your own country, you might take a stand or march for cultural changes, but I doubt you would want your children to take any major risks.

whitenoise's avatar

@augustlan – Things are not so easy here. I agree in principle, but where we live speaking your mind can possibly get you killed (even by the government) and surely get you imprisoned / deported etc. We chose to go here partly as an attempt to expose our children to other cultures and make them more open. Not sure if the latter is working, though.

Please don’t misunderstand, most people here are good and nice people, one can sense that. But to a large extent that was probably also the case with a lot of the KKK members… good nice people with some totally abject ideas that makes it impossible to accept them and have them around. My wife is professor at a University and I am also pretty high up in a sizable company. We try to change people by showing a different routes. A direct confrontation is very unwise.

I am more than happy to share my whereabouts in a PM, but I truly don’t want to do that on a public platform as fluther. That is the reason that I have avoided anything religious and country specific in my posts over the last two years. I know, that comes across as paranoid, sorry :-)

whitenoise's avatar

@Brian1946 I’d rather not say where I live… It is in the Middle East, though.
@susanc I share your feelings, but I feel that would be unwise. We will have to be a bit careful.

whitenoise's avatar

@Augustlan Moving is neither a real otion, nor what we want. I do feel we are tuching people and society here is at least moving in the right direction. It is just not there yet…

And… no the country is not unsafe as such. In many ways we are safer here than we would be in most parts of the US. It is however a ‘cultural package’ in which many issues are seriously wrong.

JLeslie's avatar

Best to be paranoid.

whitenoise's avatar

@Jeslie… you know where live. Thank you for sharing your experience. I just don’t want to lose ourselves by changing into something we don’t want to be during the effort of changing others.

And please all…. a lot of the people here are truly great, they just cannot imagine a world different from their own due to a lack of exposure to alternatives.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@whitenoise Do not stand out or risk you or your families safety in the Middle east. The culture is so different than anywhere else. It’s changing, but slowly. Try to show your children the positives, but don’t hide the negatives. Let them process it.

whitenoise's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe
I am hundred percent with you… I won’t. It is however also a magnificent experience to meet so many different cultures through my job. In the past week I have been in the Middle East, in two Asian countries and now I am in Bangladesh. I just love travel and meeting other people.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@whitenoise It’s an amazing culture and some beautiful country, but wow they think so differently then we do in the US. Good luck to you.

JLeslie's avatar

What is very significant is your children have been exposed to many cultures and are very wordly. Their adaptability and understanding that cultures vary is a wonderful thing. As you said, the local people where you are lack exposure to alternatives. It is the very reason I don’t have much worry about what your children might be learning that you might find upsetting in the local culture where you are now. Your children are exposed to alternatives. It is not fun to have to be suspicious of people, to be on guard, to be dissappointed. This compared to when they are in countries where they feel free and more equality it is probably much more comfortable, and so I believe firmly they will favor that lifestyle and way of thinking.

whitenoise's avatar

@Jleslie. I wish I could send you a hug… Thanks!

I now need to go into a breakfast meeting. I feel pretty bad… My jetlag allowed me to work all night and i have not slept for even a minute. This will bite me in the butt today I’m sure. :-)

JLeslie's avatar

Received. Good seeing you here.

mattbrowne's avatar

Use scientific evidence. The genomes of black and white people are almost the same. Skin color is a minor feature like eye color. Does the society you are referring to have white people with both blue and brown colors? What about hair color?

whitenoise's avatar

@mattbrowne it isnt that I am worried about explaining right from wrong… Not worried about the principles.

My dillema is how to explain to them that racism is wrong, if living in the society your in, makes it impossible to avoid being treated differently based on race / ethnicity / gender / religion and forces you to particpate in that as well.

JLeslie's avatar

@whitenoise Right, it is awful when you yourself participate in it. It is confusing for me just for myself living it, let alone explaining it to people or children.

mattbrowne's avatar

@whitenoise – I was also referring to creating the feeling on purpose. You could use the famous “blue-eyed/brown-eyed” exercise invented by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Elliott

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